In Defense of Words
by Burk Parsons
What is a pastor? I was asked this question not too long ago by a teenage girl who apparently didn’t know the meaning of the word pastor and was curious to learn. I must admit that I was somewhat shocked and quite saddened that she didn’t know what a pastor is, but I quickly sought to offer her an explanation of the word and how I serve as a pastor of God’s people by preaching, teaching, praying, evangelizing, discipling, counseling, and so on. And just as these words were coming out of my mouth, I realized that if she didn’t know the meaning of the word pastor, she likely didn’t know the meanings of any of these other words either—and she’s not alone. Over the years, I have found that people of every age, in the church and world, do not know the meanings of many of the most basic biblical and theological words. This isn’t primarily the fault of the people, it is the fault of us pastors. We have not been faithful in our calling to equip God’s people in the theology of His Word and in the theological terms of His Word.
Many of the current problems in the church are due to our lack of knowledge of Scripture itself, and this is not just a problem in the pew but in the pulpit as well. The problem is not that we don’t read the Bible, the problem is that we don’t study the Bible. In fact, the Bible itself does not call us merely to read it in order to get through it as quickly as possible in a perfunctory manner—on the contrary, the Bible tells us to devour it one jot and tittle at a time, to study it as unashamed workmen, to rightly divide it, to search it, to meditate on it, to delight in it, to let it dwell within our hearts richly, and to hide it in our hearts that we might not sin against the Lord. We rightly affirm the complete, word-for-word inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, yet we often fail to study it word for word, thought for thought, phrase for phrase, and thus fail to grasp the very basic meanings of the eternally weighty and glorious words that God Himself has graciously revealed to us. More to the point, while there are many important theological discussions and disputes within the church, some result from a simple lack of historical, ecclesial, and theological understanding of terms.
By the grace of God, if the rising generations are to hear the gospel and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ who make other disciples, they must have parents and preachers who know the meanings of the words of the gospel and the words of the Word of God. In our post-everything culture, we desperately need to recover a robust knowledge of the meanings of biblical and theological words so that we might rightly employ and apply them as we live coram deo, by the grace of God and for the glory of God, knowing as much as we can possibly know about the glorious meanings of grace and glory.